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'Deep regret' Organ transplant cancelled at Mater Hospital due to ICU Covid crisis

It is understood half the Mater’s ICU beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients on that day.

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The Mater Hospital in Dublin

The Mater Hospital in Dublin

The Mater Hospital in Dublin

An organ transplant operation at the Mater hospital in Dublin had to be cancelled because of a shortage of ICU beds triggered by the Covid-19 surge.

Sources said the organs became available and were delivered to the Mater hospital on November 12 by ambulance.

The transplant patient was put on standby and the procedure was due to go ahead later that day.

But the hospital’s ICU beds were full and despite a frantic check of other hospitals in the capital, no ICU beds were available, and the operation had to be cancelled.

It is understood half the Mater’s ICU beds were occupied by Covid-19 patients on that day.

Last night the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) reported 5,959 Covid-19 cases, with 640 Covid-19 patients being treated in hospital yesterday, 121 of those in ICU.

The case crystallises the tragic and far-reaching impact of Covid-19 on patients and on the healthcare system as hospitals brace for a surge of virus experts fear puts the health service at greater risk than at any time during the pandemic.

An estimated 60pc of intensive care beds across the hospital system are occupied by patients who are seriously ill with the virus.

The Mater said the cancellation of the organ transplant procedure was “unprecedented” and extended its “deep regret” to the transplant patient.

“There were severe capacity constraints in the Mater’s intensive care unit on that date. Fifty per cent of those being cared for in the Mater’s ICU at that time were severely ill Covid positive patients,” a statement said.

“Every effort was made both within the hospital and in the wider hospital system in Dublin to secure a bed. The decision was not taken lightly and the Mater deeply regrets the impact this had on the transplant patient, their family and the donor’s family.”

The HSE said it will hold a review into the incident “to establish whether there are any national learnings arising from it”.

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Hospitals have been told to expect a wave of Covid-19 that will peak in the coming weeks, but which could be sustained at that level until the end of January.

Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta hospital group, told the Sunday Independent how modelling for his region suggests cases they will peak at around 100 but the modelling “is also saying to us that that level of Covid-19 activity in our hospitals will be sustained throughout the month of December and January”.

“One of the real concerns is that we end up in a situation where we don’t have sufficient staff to be able to provide care to them. Particularly in the ICUs,” he said. “I would be concerned that we would be able to do that and sustain it over the next 10-week period.”

Catherine Motherway, intensive care consultant at University Hospital Limerick, said if the virus continues on its current trajectory, the shortage of ICU beds could force doctors to choose between patients.

“We cannot admit 500 people to an ICU if we do not have 500 ICU beds,” she said.

“What people need to understand is that neither I nor any of my colleagues wants to be put into a position of choosing between a 40-year-old and a 50-year-old and deciding which of them gets a bed.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned the next fortnight will be critical for Ireland to control the Covid-19 case surge that has threatened the Christmas season.

He said further control measures are being considered by the Government but refused to be drawn on issues such as curfews, travel restrictions or possible curbs on socialising over Christmas.

"This isn't about any one time of the year (Christmas) — we have to deal with waves as they come and as they emerge," he said. "If there is a wave in January or February, equally we have to respond.”

It also emerged this weekend that the HSE is stockpiling millions of antigen tests as part of plans for their wider use in response to the pandemic.

More than eight million tests have been ordered through the EU’s joint procurement agreement.

The move follows a Government decision last week that antigen tests should be sent to every household where there is a positive case.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is hoping to bring a memo to Cabinet this week to subsidise the cost of antigen tests. But in an email last Wednesday, chief medical officer Tony Holohan said making antigen tests more affordable "risks promoting rather than reducing transmission of the disease".

A Government source claims Dr Holohan is mounting a campaign of “unbelievable obstruction”, but another describes it as “clinical concerns” on the CMO’s part. “But Government wants every tool to be there for people,” they said. “So it will be sorted.”

The Sunday Independent can reveal the Government is examining changes to the Covid Pass that would mean people eligible for a booster shot would not be considered fully vaccinated until they avail of their third jab.

A memo to ministers last week stated: “The Senior Officials Group will further explore the policy and logistical implications of any change to the validity of the Covid Pass in the context of a widespread booster programme.”

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